Founding a National UMC Transgender Caucus
It was many years before the Reconcilling Ministries Network began living into the need for a focused Transgender Extension Ministry. A few individual cases made the news, bringing both new awareness as well as conflict within the broader United Methodist Church (UMC).
In 2002, Rev. Rebecca Steen ultimately resigned her clergy credentials in the United Methodist Church. Like many employment disputes, her case was handled primarily behind closed doors, though it made headlines as the situation came to a close.
In the aftermath of Drew Phoenix's successful transition (2006-2008) at St John's Baltimore UMC and the following 2008 General Conference, transgender lives were becoming more visible within the United Methodist Church and in U.S. society in general.
The next year, in 2009, David Weekley's disclosure of his long-time transgender history was a major news story.
In February 2011, Violet Fenn proposed a "Transgender Extension Ministry (TEM)" to the board of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). The board unanimously approved the proposal.
Over the following year and in preparation for the 2011 RMN Convocation, the Transgender Extension Ministry (TEM) was established with the following mission:
TEM challenges the United Methodist Church (UMC) to live into its visionary policy of being a church free from gender discrimination at every level, equipping and empowering people to transform our church and society into places that celebrate gender diversity. Embracing the God-given reality that from our genesis we are created in God's image, TEM understands gender diversity as a divine gift. Accordingly, we particularly welcome, support, and advocate for those who are transgender, gender variant, and otherwise transcend binary gender expectations.
Our work takes the form of three interrelated ministries:
Nurture: Offer support, fellowship, and connections to transgender individuals and their families throughout the UMC.
Outreach: Provide tools, resources, and strategies to work toward the full inclusion of transgender people in the church and society.
Witness: Provide a public witness in support of transgender people in local congregations, at UMC Conferences, and in society.
In October 2012, RMN/TEM gathered more than a dozen transgender advocates in Chicago for a planning retreat. The gathering was highlighted on the RMN blog as well as by Believe Out Loud:
While the Trangender Extension Ministry remained a ministry of the larger Reconciling Ministries Network, the integration of transgender leadership was a key priority at the retreat. Chris Paige, executive director of Transfaith and Alex McNeill (who would be named executive director of More Light Presbyterians the next year) were both a part of the gathering, as well as Drew Phoenix and David Weekley (mentioned earlier in this article).
In 2015, under the leadership of C. Kristian Clauser, the Transgender Extension Ministry chose a more distinctive name, United Methodist Alliance for Transgender Inclusion and launched a Facebook group to help UMC trangender people and allies to connect. The changes were announced in May 2015.
The work of UMATI contines, reaching out into the United Methodist Church as well as out into the broader world. As noted in blogging about the the launch of the Transgender Extenstion Ministry,
Too many people still either leave out transgender education altogether or lump gender identity with sexual orientation and misunderstand the differences.
Others, even in reconciling congregations, imagine they are welcoming and ready to receive a transgender member but are woefully unprepared to extend full hospitality. Instead of offering healing and hope, lack of preparation causes harm.
RMN values gender diversity and has included transgender United Methodists in all levels of leadership for many years, but recognizes that being safe in a pew requires grassroots commitment.
Transfaith is pleased to be in partnership on the journey...